Uncovering Original Sin and Church Corruption

If the devil was given free reign on earth to do as much damage as possible to the unfolding of divine purposes, where would he begin? What more effective places to press his diabolical schemes than in the hearts of God’s people, and in the work of the Christian church? How about targeting especially the humans entrusted with shepherding the flock that makes up the church, the body of Christ in the world?

The sexual abuse of children and then covering it up by those who hold the position of priest or higher in the Roman Catholic Church come immediately to mind as prime examples of how embodied evil has poisoned hearts, minds, and souls of church members, leaders, and those entrusted with the care of church-related institutions.

Jesus’s followers everywhere should be outraged by this and similar abuses and corruptions of Christian faith. Outrage should rise out of compassion for past and potential future victims and out of concern for the deplorable witness to faith in Christ communicated by these behaviors by so-called Christians.

The Roman Catholic Church does not hold a monopoly on sin and wrongdoing. A brief survey of church history or the current spectrum of church-related abuses will quickly correct that view. Any church historian worthy of the title could go on ad nauseum chronicling centuries of horrendous sins conducted by church leaders and institutions.

Revelation of unregenerate, even devilish church leadership can shock the sensibilities of faithful Christians and result in depressive cynicism. Thus, it is critical to understand that this very subject throws us directly onto the only One full of boundless hope for us all, who is Jesus Christ.

The parallels between the sin and corruption we see in immoral behaviors too often associated with the church, and the sin and corruption we see in the Christian understanding of original sin are undeniable.

According to Christian doctrine, the original humans, Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, had it made. They had everything to gain by living in the Garden of Eden in a happy, righteous relationship with God, each other, and all creation. Instead, they used God’s gift of free will to disobey the clear rules God had established. This moral violation against the Ruler of the Universe resulted immediately in overwhelming shame and suffering, which continues to plague their posterity to this day. Further, just like numerous church officials, Adam and Eve attempted to hide their sin from God, as if somehow God could that easily be fooled into not noticing or holding them accountable.

It is no secret that the Christian doctrine of original sin has fallen out of favor with many in the Christian church. It is not, after all, a humanly reasonable doctrine that attributes the guilt and shame of a couple of “original” humans to all humanity throughout all generations. Never mind that the doctrine of original sin teaches about God-given free will and the perpetual, perennial true story of human disobedience to God’s will that always and everywhere repeats itself.

Even more embarrassing than the seemingly odious concept of Adam’s and Eve’s representative guilt is that the doctrine of original sin identifies a supernatural evil one, “the devil.” It would hardly seem to be in the best interest of powerful church leaders throughout the ages, but especially in the modern era, to admit vulnerability to such an embodiment of evil, especially in the form of a snake.

How silly?

Which is more ludicrous, evil embodied in a snake-devil, or in a priest, pastor, or professor?

What is more tempting, a delicious but forbidden piece of fruit, or violating moral law to gratify lust, greed, or hunger for power?

Either way, words seem inadequate for the egregious committing or covering up of crimes by men against children, countless other evils, or the general extent of human depravity that demonstrates the world’s desperate need of Christ. Jesus’s own warning about vicious wolves in sheep’s clothing that seek to devour God’s flock should be well-taken.

Beyond the heart-wrenching suffering experienced by victims and those who love them, and for all who suffer the direct consequences of sin, there is only one answer, one hope for humanity: Jesus Christ.

What are we to do with broken, hurting lives and with our broken church-related institutions? If we look to Jesus for direction, we are to love, support, and build each other up in faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us with this life-giving, comforting ministry, and who teaches us to discern when church-related institutions have been led astray from God’s purposes and twisted into gateways of hell. Our Scriptures teach us to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7).

Uncovering, or bringing to light original sin and church corruption may make us feel uncomfortable. This is not a bad thing. True to Wesleyan Christian doctrine, this discomfort just may be grace leading us to new understanding or to true repentance and forgiveness; and prodding us toward a new life in Jesus Christ.

Evil and Evangelism from a Wesleyan Perspective

At least 58 people died and 489 more were seriously injured by a killer in Las Vegas last year. A murderous driver in New York City killed eight more people on bicycles the very next week. When someone intentionally kills an innocent human being, let alone scores of people at a concert, nightclub, church, school, movie theater, on the street, or anywhere else, it is an understatement to say that evil has once again reared its ugly head.

Regardless of why an individual would murder innocent people, and why then and there, rather than targeting you, others, or me is beside the point. Having been spared and lived to tell about it, I am left to take seriously the facts before me: people made in God’s image have been mass murdered in cold blood.

This is real and it is extraordinary. It defies all laws and social and cultural expectations, let alone democratic or Christian values. As a Christian, called to love as God loves, I cannot believe I should only breathe a sigh of relief that I was not a victim, utter a prayer for grieving families, and move on.

Evil exists and acts viciously, both in broad daylight and behind the scenes, deviously awaiting the most opportune time and place to strike. John Wesley and centuries of orthodox Christian theology would count this as both evidence and an outworking of original sin. But it is not enough simply to relegate this discussion to theology and history books.

From the perspective of those of us in Christ’s church, the question must be, what next? By this I do not mean to ask, if or where will evil strike next, because it will, somewhere. Rather, I mean to ask, what is my response as a Christian, to this and other malicious evils in our society and in the broader world? 

If the church truly is of God, we of the church know full well what the response must be. Into a treacherous, mean-spirited, unrepentant, God-forsaking world already entered God’s holy, perfect response, and we know it full well if we believe.

From a Wesleyan perspective, what we can see is a holy, disruptive, catalytic trajectory of God’s dynamic grace already working throughout God’s creation. It was divinely deployed through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ into our messed up, bloody, broken world. God the Holy Spirit gives, breathes, and enlivens this grace around, in, and through every human being responsive enough receive it.

So here we may safely and smugly sit, we may think, having received our portion and called ourselves Christian, whilst the crazy world around us goes to hell.

No! From a Wesleyan perspective, the grace we receive never ends with us any more than it begins with us. This same grace propels us into all the places where God’s miracle of redemption is most needed. The answer to evil in the world is incarnational evangelism, the good news of Jesus Christ with skin on it, ours included.

Persons redeemed by and filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ do not murder, mass murder, terrorize, backstab, power grab, sow corruption, exploit, abuse, or otherwise undermine the wellbeing of others. Nor does a Holy Spirit filled Jesus-follower sit on her or his hands. Rather, someone filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ pours out herself or himself in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. There is no other useful response.

How God prompts us, and what, specifically, God calls us each to do, varies from person to person. If we truly believe, we should be afraid only of what it would mean not to follow that call. “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” is the mantra of the Lord’s flock. Not only this, but the Apostle Paul admonishes Jesus-followers not to be “overcome with evil,” but to “overcome evil with good.” Quite logically, in this world this can only be accomplished (1) through the power of God working “with skin on,” and (2) by actually doing something.

The good news is, what we are supposed to do is clear as a bell. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always” (Matt 28:19-20).

Through Spirit-led and empowered evangelism, we are compelled to announce, extend, and live incarnationally the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect response to human sinfulness, and the quintessential antidote to evil.

Thoughts on Martyrdom and Freedom

The Christian movement that has grown to more than 2.3 billion adherents was birthed in martyrdom. Martyrdom is sometimes viewed as a terrible, if not foolish, way to die. Yet many who have chosen this path had been persuaded that their freedom to die in the name and service of Jesus Christ trumped every other option.

Jesus, himself, started this tradition, suffering a gruesome death for freely bearing the truth of his gospel. His freedom from above defied every earthly effort to silence him. He steadfastly refused to relinquish his freedom to act on earth in accordance with the divine will despite the threat of deadly violence to his body. Most of his closest disciples experienced a similar fate.

What does martyrdom have to do with those who live in a context of religious freedom in which death by martyrdom may seem irrelevant?

First and most obvious is the question: “Is my faith strong enough that I would be willing to die for it?” Students in courses about the history of Christianity find themselves grappling with this question when introduced to early Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire. Details about fiery, brutal, and gory deaths of women, children, and men, as a consequence of their faith in Christ, abound enough to shock the sensibilities of those unused to violent challenges to faith.

Second is the brutal fact that religious martyrdom is still commonplace in our world. Twenty-first century Christians and members of other religions are frequently persecuted and even murdered in cold blood because of their beliefs.

The Pew Research Center tracks both government restrictions and social hostilities related to religion across the globe. In 2017 the Center documented an increase in the number of nations with high levels of religious intolerance and hostility. They found that Christians were harassed for their faith in more countries than any other religious group. It should be noted that the US is not without religious hostility.

If we believe with the apostle Paul that if one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers, the persecution and martyrdom of sisters and brothers in any part of the world profoundly matters to us all.

Third, Christians should never take for granted religious freedom for ourselves or for others. Two-thirds of the world’s population is deprived of religious freedom. Most persecution and martyrdom occur in nations that lack religious freedom.

From a Wesleyan perspective in a context of religious freedom, how can we best build on, rather than diminish, our association with the faithful service and willing martyrdom of those who have given their lives in bloody sacrifice for Jesus?

We may recognize, first, the Holy Spirit’s work of grace in persecution and martyrdom, but similarly in a life of obedience and service. In Christian history, we have accounts of the martyrdom of saints such as Stephen, Paul, Polycarp, Perpetua, Catherine, and Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom gave their lives in sacrifice for their belief and obedience to Jesus. We have also the stories of Mary, Martha, Augustine, Martin Luther, and Mother Teresa — and countless others, all of whom spent and gave their lives in sacrificial service in the name and Spirit of Jesus. Through the life and witness of those who died for the faith and those who have lived long lives of service for the faith, the Holy Spirit extends abundant preventing, convicting, justifying and sanctifying grace.

Second, the Wesleyan theological heritage possesses a deep appreciation of the free will that is God’s gift in creation to every person. An appreciation of free will and its role in concert with the Holy Spirit in the great work of salvation defies any inclination toward the coercion of persons, against their will, in matters of faith. Just as Christians who die for their faith affirm tenaciously the gift of free will to affirm faith in Christ regardless of any punishment, those who live in faith must recognize both our freedom to confess and follow Christ, and the freedom of others to choose not to do so. This conviction accentuates the blessing of religious freedom as a context for Christian conversion and growth, but also the importance of prayerfully waiting on the Holy Spirit to convict others of this faith and its fruits.

Third, the suffering of martyrdom impresses upon the Wesleyan Christian the weight of Christian conscience both in life and in facing death of any kind. In his sermon, “On Conscience,” John Wesley described conscience as “a faculty of the soul which, by the assistance of the grace of God, sees at one and the same time, (1) our own tempers and lives, … (2) the rule [of the word of God] whereby we are to be directed, and (3) the agreement or disagreement therewith.” It is conscience as well as conviction that compel a Christian, in the face of pressure to deny Jesus Christ, to accept death as a martyr. The same conscience and conviction compel the faithful to live each day of our lives in service to Jesus Christ as a witness to his life, death, and resurrection.

As If We Could “Overcome Evil with Good”

The Wesleys’ renewal movement within the Anglican Church was an audacious, if imperfect effort to proclaim, to embody, and to advance what is truly good. Starting with Jesus Christ, himself, and his righteousness, those Methodists went on to change individual lives by the hundreds of thousands on multiple continents, along with everything they could manage to do to reform the societies on those continents. The Wesleys and the early Methodist movement can be seen as a colossal effort by “the people called Methodists” to fulfill this Pauline injunction: “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” This bold, double directive, located in Rom 12:21, is exceedingly difficult to obey, which makes it all the more remarkable that early Methodists behaved as if they could actually do so.

What was it about those early Methodists that made them think they could and should stand apart from the everyday practices of others, critique the radical shortcomings of their own denominational body, and try prayerfully to reform it from within, while also transforming the world around them? Take, for instance, John Wesley’s announcement, and his associated behavior, to the effect that his calling was to serve a world parish, rather than merely a local one prescribed by his bishop. What caused him to think it was his proper role, not only to preach Jesus near and far, but also to combat the evils of slavery and the excesses of the liquor trade, launch schools and clinics to fight illiteracy and disease, and help to fund business start-ups among the poor?

The ultimate good, the Wesleys believed, was the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior and Light of the World, who broke the power of sin and evil through his intervening incarnation, death and resurrection. The Wesleys believed God was busy working in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit through those human beings who were being called, sanctified, and empowered to take salvific healing, hope, new life to a broken world. This was not some kind of timid, naïve, token do-goodism designed to help people feel better about themselves and the world. Rather, for the Apostle Paul in the Roman Empire, and for the Wesleys in the British Isles, this was a call to a radically loving mission to lost and suffering humanity. The mission assumed a foundation-shaking, iconoclastic, and therefore inherently provocative approach to life, ministry, and citizenship that offended power brokers of the day and prompted dynamic face-offs with personified evil both within and outside established religious institutions. Evil met these Methodists, often face to face, but most often they were not overcome with evil. Instead, time after time as their life stories go, God helping them, they overcame evil with good.

With this heritage, twenty-first-century Christians should not be surprised when evil again and again rears its ugly head, especially in opposition to the good God is doing in and through Spirit-led followers of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s injunction, evil is a given. It’s there. Just look around. Injustice. Murder. Genocide. Racism. Human trafficking. Corruption. Greed. Etcetera. In his earthly ending, Paul was only one of a long line of faithful Christians cruelly murdered for their faith by the Roman Empire. Reformers Martin Luther and John Wesley recognized the same pervasive presence of evil. In a powerful and theologically astute hymn that assured “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Luther wrote of “our ancient foe [who] doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.” We would be losing, hands down, against this enemy if God in Christ were not on our side, intervening for us, Luther concluded. John Wesley attributed the evil all around and within the human community to the work of the devil and original sin, the effect of humans giving in to the power and treachery of the devil. So pervasive is this evil that it can be traced throughout the world and its history. So determined is evil to fly in the face of what is good, that we would be wise to expect it to fly in our faces any time we are privileged to do God’s good and holy work, unless God chooses to intervene and prevent or overpower it.

As persistent, pervasive and mean as evil may be, Paul’s directive to “overcome evil with good” implies this is not only possible, but already fundamentally accomplished in and through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Wesley encompassed this reality in his theology of preventing, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying grace that works in and through God’s people. For this reason “with God all things are possible” is not just a cute phrase of idealistic encouragement. Instead, it is a powerful, dynamic, God-spoken ultimatum that takes down strongholds and literally changes lives and the world.

Evil abounds like it always has, destroying and discouraging many. The good news in a Wesleyan and Pauline perspective is that we live and work as if we could overcome evil with good. This is because and only because, with God, we can.

Religious Freedom’s Grim Reality and Challenge

I’m not proud of it, but I must admit that for much of my life I’ve taken religious freedom for granted. I was born in the US, so I enjoy the freedoms that belong to US citizens. Like many, the most I can say for myself is that I’ve always been quietly grateful to live in a country with religious freedom.

North Americans are among a minority in the world’s population in having the privilege of religious freedom. 5,300,000,000 people in the world (out of approximately 7,500,000,000 – or about two-thirds) face severe religious restrictions coming from their own governments, not to mention the persecutions administered by non-state religiously affiliated organizations.

The 9/11 attacks and other terrorist activities have raised new awareness and concerns related to religious freedom. Religious terrorism, which is a violent expression of religious intolerance, has prompted many to ponder what is it like to live or work in a setting where one’s chosen religion is outlawed, forced underground, and deemed punishable with imprisonment, torture, and/or death.

If one conducts a google search on “religious persecution today,” complete with images, and reads associated news stories from the Pew Research Center and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, one is readily provided with a grim reality check. The well-circulated images of Christians being taken to a beach and summarily executed are horrific. But they are drops in the bucket when it comes to the high incidence of religious persecution in the world today.

It’s essential for those of us who value religious freedom to understand and appreciate its history, philosophy, and ethics, given its minority status and vulnerability in the world among both religious and non-religious populations. Some oppose religious freedom on religious grounds, while others oppose it on non-religious grounds. For instance, atheists have proposed that the world would be kinder, gentler, and more peaceful without religion. We may note, however, that in history, atheistic countries have no better record of peace and kindness than religious countries.

Others have suggested that the practice of religious freedom should exclude those religions that have been associated with terrorism in recent years, which quickly becomes a slippery slope back down the hill toward intolerance.

These are not new issues. The Puritans in Massachusetts wanted religious freedom for themselves but practiced intolerance toward most others. They were eventually reigned in and prevented from further hangings and burning of accused “heretics” (such as Baptists, Quakers, and Roman Catholics!) at the stake through the state’s ostensibly rational, political process of developing and implementing religious freedom laws. Puritans could still practice as Puritans, but finally they were prevented from harming others in doing so — or face the law of the land and its consequences, just like those who were guilty of harming others for non-religious reasons.

Many colonists emigrated to North America, or from colony to colony, having seen and/or experienced firsthand the dreadful, deadly results of religious persecution in Europe, Massachusetts, and other places. So, they envisioned a future that would look different from their past. And they proceeded to build a foundation for that future.

Religious and political leaders of the colonies, and then the states, figured out how to overcome their differences enough to form a tight and constructive alliance, and worked together to ensure that citizens of the new nation would never again have to endure religious persecution. Led by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others, they drafted and passed the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights that still guarantees religious freedom today.

Those early US Americans, many of whom were Deists and Baptists, were passionately committed to ensuring the human rights and dignity of the citizens of the new nation. They took a radical position for that time by insisting that even the religious preferences of Quakers, Catholics, and Jews should be respected alongside Puritans, Methodists, Unitarians, and Anglicans. Both political and religious leaders invested themselves deeply in the politics of their day to help carve out and preserve for all citizens the right of religious freedom.

Many of these pioneering builders of a new nation, including the Puritans in their own way, believed God was leading them forward and answering the prayers of generations of religiously persecuted ancestors. They believed God was doing something new in America, creating a “city on a hill” for all the world to see. It didn’t turn out exactly how the Puritans envisioned it, but eventually they, too, saw the light and the relative peace that was made possible by the establishment of religious freedom. As a result, Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, among others, could thrive and play an important part in fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in and beyond North America.

In a Wesleyan theological perspective, ours is not a God who coerces people and nations to conform even to the best practices of religion or government. We have not seen Jesus in the gospels requiring people to believe in him. We would be hard pressed to identify even one individual who has been forced by the Holy Spirit to do or not to do anything. Free will and freedom of conscience factor heavily into Wesleyan theology and life.

Religious freedom is an amazing gift, then, that God and our nation’s founders conspired to provide even for us, so that we are free to worship God and offer the good news of Jesus Christ without constraint. This is a good thing that we may certainly wish, pray, and work for in all the world. Our work is cut out for us because Christianity is the most highly persecuted faith in the two-thirds of the world where religious freedom is currently denied.

To continue to work to establish and secure religious freedom, in our nation and beyond, is to pave a much-needed path not only to dignity, peace, productivity, and goodwill for all the world’s citizens, but especially for the good news of Jesus Christ.

The User-Friendly Side of Christian Orthodoxy

How does one respond to complaints about orthodox Christian doctrine, those expressed by professing Christians and non-Christians alike? These include criticisms such as that the cross of Jesus represents “divine child abuse” on the part of the Father, that it is unjust to hold later generations guilty for the “original” sin of Adam and Eve, that the substitutionary theory of atonement for the sins of humanity is equally absurd, along with the objection that a virgin birth is simply unreasonable and therefore ridiculous to accept for any reason. These and other objections exist in plentiful supply.

In addition to the argument for revealed truth, in the face of such criticisms the case may be made that, when appropriately understood, orthodox Christian doctrine is vastly more user-friendly than anything more novel ever could be. This is one reason why, despite alternatives that present themselves time and time again, orthodox Christian doctrine is at the center of thriving, growing Christian communities throughout the world. It is also at the center of missions and ministries that have provided transformational hope and help to billions of people in need.

One need only to review the affirmations of the Nicene Creed to be reminded that the whole purpose of the incarnation was “for us and our salvation,” Jesus’s death on the cross was “for our sake,” and that judgment, resurrection, and “the life of the world to come” await us. The scenario depicted by this ancient creed is one of a benevolent God who intervenes in human history for the sake of a redeemed relationship with (us) humans. This is a God who cares enough not only to warn us away from evil and to hold us accountable in judgment, but also to provide a way for forgiveness of our failings as any wise and loving parent would and, to guide us toward a future bright with hope and promise. Summed up in two words, this God who is at the center of orthodox Christian doctrine is a God of pure love toward humanity.

What could be more user-friendly than Christian doctrine that offers permanent companionship with One characterized by pure love? What is better than tangible hope provided by faithful disciples on behalf of this God for the down-and-out? Where else in the universe might we find such meaning for sacrifice, comfort for suffering, joy in the midst of sadness? What other faith offers participation in a mighty mission that gives love, salvation, and new life to any who will claim these gifts?

A careful study of what critics call divine child abuse reveals not a malicious God, but One who would sacrifice self at the greatest possible cost for the sake of others. The blood of the cross may offend the sensibilities of gentle, kindly persons safely ensconced in a protected environment with loved ones. To a soldier dying from wounds on a battlefield, or a victim of human trafficking, gang violence or other horrific abuse, the spilling of God’s blood for our sake may serve to bring the greatest expression of God’s undying love and empathy to millions upon millions, if not billions, of people.

Though “representative” sin, obedience, and sacrifice are not common features of contemporary western culture, by studying their meaning in the cultures in which these concepts were developed, we may learn something useful and important about the impact of behaviors that bring shame or honor to entire communities and how, theologically, these doctrines are eminently plausible. We simply need to engage our capacity to learn from and respect cultures other than our own.

What about the elements of miracle and mystery in faith? Could it be that the main point of the virgin birth is not the biological question of “how could this be,” but the theological question of “how could this be?” Every generation since the birth of the baby Jesus has had the blessed opportunity to grapple with this question. Yet we have not given up on Christmas, have we? The bold question that must be asked out of the sheer outrageousness of the nativity story points like the star in the east directly to a God who appears not only in the ordinary, but also in the extraordinary and, to a God who does not shy away from the performance of miracles in order to demonstrate divine love and power. What a way to begin the telling of the gospel story!

Could it be that there are some things in the realm of mystery that are part of the story of our salvation that only God understands fully, such as how the death of Jesus atones for human sin? Isn’t the main point acceptance of the gift of atonement by faith?

I have encountered many intelligent persons who criticize orthodoxy Christian doctrine on the basis that it is inflexible, harsh, or unreasonable. Some of these have ventured to substitute heretical doctrines and others have adopted different religions or atheism. Some simply remain confused or drift quietly into a posture of apathy.

For each one that has chosen to step outside the orthodox fold, there is a multitude that has chosen to dig deeper into the history, experience, and amazing richness of orthodox Christian doctrine. Delving ever more deeply into the mysteries of God is a humbling, worshipful, and highly user-friendly experience – so much so that it has served only to strengthen and multiply countless disciples of Jesus Christ for the past two millennia.

Orthodox Christian doctrine is, after all, a no-nonsense outline of the story of God’s incredible love for us, expressed in Jesus Christ and vivified in our midst by the presence and help of the Holy Spirit.

The User-Friendly Side of Christian Orthodoxy

How does one respond to complaints about orthodox Christian doctrine, those expressed by professing Christians and non-Christians alike? These include criticisms such as that the cross of Jesus represents “divine child abuse” on the part of the Father, that it is unjust to hold later generations guilty for the “original” sin of Adam and Eve, that the substitutionary theory of atonement for the sins of humanity is equally absurd, along with the objection that a virgin birth is simply unreasonable and therefore ridiculous to accept for any reason. These and other objections exist in plentiful supply.

In addition to the argument for revealed truth, in the face of such criticisms the case may be made that, when appropriately understood, orthodox Christian doctrine is vastly more user-friendly than anything more novel ever could be. This is one reason why, despite alternatives that present themselves time and time again, orthodox Christian doctrine is at the center of thriving, growing Christian communities throughout the world. It is also at the center of missions and ministries that have provided transformational hope and help to billions of people in need.

One need only to review the affirmations of the Nicene Creed to be reminded that the whole purpose of the incarnation was “for us and our salvation,” Jesus’s death on the cross was “for our sake,” and that judgment, resurrection, and “the life of the world to come” await us. The scenario depicted by this ancient creed is one of a benevolent God who intervenes in human history for the sake of a redeemed relationship with (us) humans. This is a God who cares enough not only to warn us away from evil and to hold us accountable in judgment, but also to provide a way for forgiveness of our failings as any wise and loving parent would and, to guide us toward a future bright with hope and promise. Summed up in two words, this God who is at the center of orthodox Christian doctrine is a God of pure love toward humanity.

What could be more user-friendly than Christian doctrine that offers permanent companionship with One characterized by pure love? What is better than tangible hope provided by faithful disciples on behalf of this God for the down-and-out? Where else in the universe might we find such meaning for sacrifice, comfort for suffering, joy in the midst of sadness? What other faith offers participation in a mighty mission that gives love, salvation, and new life to any who will claim these gifts?

A careful study of what critics call divine child abuse reveals not a malicious God, but One who would sacrifice self at the greatest possible cost for the sake of others. The blood of the cross may offend the sensibilities of gentle, kindly persons safely ensconced in a protected environment with loved ones. To a soldier dying from wounds on a battlefield, or a victim of human trafficking, gang violence or other horrific abuse, the spilling of God’s blood for our sake may serve to bring the greatest expression of God’s undying love and empathy to millions upon millions, if not billions, of people.

Though “representative” sin, obedience, and sacrifice are not common features of contemporary western culture, by studying their meaning in the cultures in which these concepts were developed, we may learn something useful and important about the impact of behaviors that bring shame or honor to entire communities and how, theologically, these doctrines are eminently plausible. We simply need to engage our capacity to learn from and respect cultures other than our own.

What about the elements of miracle and mystery in faith? Could it be that the main point of the virgin birth is not the biological question of “how could this be,” but the theological question of “how could this be?” Every generation since the birth of the baby Jesus has had the blessed opportunity to grapple with this question. Yet we have not given up on Christmas, have we? The bold question that must be asked out of the sheer outrageousness of the nativity story points like the star in the east directly to a God who appears not only in the ordinary, but also in the extraordinary and, to a God who does not shy away from the performance of miracles in order to demonstrate divine love and power. What a way to begin the telling of the gospel story!

Could it be that there are some things in the realm of mystery that are part of the story of our salvation that only God understands fully, such as how the death of Jesus atones for human sin? Isn’t the main point acceptance of the gift of atonement by faith?

I have encountered many intelligent persons who criticize orthodoxy Christian doctrine on the basis that it is inflexible, harsh, or unreasonable. Some of these have ventured to substitute heretical doctrines and others have adopted different religions or atheism. Some simply remain confused or drift quietly into a posture of apathy.

For each one that has chosen to step outside the orthodox fold, there is a multitude that has chosen to dig deeper into the history, experience, and amazing richness of orthodox Christian doctrine. Delving ever more deeply into the mysteries of God is a humbling, worshipful, and highly user-friendly experience – so much so that it has served only to strengthen and multiply countless disciples of Jesus Christ for the past two millennia.

Orthodox Christian doctrine is, after all, a no-nonsense outline of the story of God’s incredible love for us, expressed in Jesus Christ and vivified in our midst by the presence and help of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Advocacy from a Wesleyan Perspective

Much noise is being made in The United Methodist Church (UMC) about divergent views on human sexuality. Political strategies and aggressive campaigns have been designed and employed to win sympathy and votes in favor of a variety of opinions on the topic. The resulting cacophony has become so loud and shrill that it is increasingly difficult for church members and observers to associate The UMC with anything other than internecine feuds about sex.

At a time like this we would do well to revisit the Wesleyan heritage to look for clues to a productive, spiritually healthy way to advocate for the things we believe in and, hopefully, to move into the future as if it were held and blessed by the triune God we profess in our creeds. The good news is that, in this heritage, we may find both theological and practical resources to help us. We turn first to the theological.

In the Wesleyan heritage of which United Methodism is a historical part, theology, social views, politics, and corresponding actions properly originate in and flow from the core doctrines of the church. United Methodist Christians of orthodox faith have long agreed that these basic, constitutionally protected doctrines have been informed and shaped by the biblical witness to Jesus Christ. If the church wants to have theological integrity, these doctrines must inform the faith and exercise of our worship and life together.

More specifically, in United Methodism true to its orthodox, doctrinal heritage, social and political advocacy is a theological and practical implication of the Wesleyan doctrine of sanctification. This is because, following the new birth, the Holy Spirit continues to work by God’s grace in the hearts and lives of the faithful to cultivate holiness and its fruits. Sanctification is equated with holiness or Christian perfection, that is, the pure love of God dwelling and growing within the redeemed.

This being the case, what are the implications of the doctrine of sanctification for United Methodism’s sex wars? How might such implications apply to social advocacy for anything else, for that matter?

John Wesley was fond of explaining something by ruling out first what it is not. If we accept that holy advocacy is an outcome of God’s pure love working in and through the followers of Jesus to bless others and ourselves and, if we follow Wesley’s pattern above, we may quickly identify some prime examples from recent UMC history of what holy advocacy is not.

Even a rudimentary understanding of a Wesleyan view of sanctification should convince us that holy advocacy for a particular point of view will not involve name-calling, intimidation, mocking, or belittling the faith of those with whom one disagrees. Nor will holy advocacy impair or inhibit other valid ministries of the church by pushing its own agenda first and foremost, if not exclusively. Holy advocacy in a Wesleyan spirit will not presume to consume the “widow’s mites” of the church by spending or wasting otherwise dedicated resources in order to draw attention to its own purposes and to advance its own plan. Holy advocacy depends not on the cunning or conniving of men and women, but on a God of wisdom and awesome power guiding our path and leading the way for us to walk in it. Holy advocacy will be careful not to short-circuit the Holy Spirit’s capacity to provide its full fruit in due season, an abundant harvest of godly change in and among hearts, lives, communities, and nations. Holy advocacy is not imperialistic, forcing its way into lives and communities that, for whatever reason, emphatically object to it.

If not the above, then what does holy advocacy look like? How would one recognize holy advocacy from a Wesleyan perspective if one saw it? Surely in every case holy advocacy would be steeped in humble prayer and it would rest heavily on a deep, spiritual, and doctrinal base with faith in the triune God at the center.

Every United Methodist seminarian preparing for ordination is required to learn, among other things, that sanctification is what the Holy Spirit does in us to change us to become more Christ-like. Sanctification is as much a gift of God’s grace as is the justification that initiates the Christian into the new birth and Christian community. If this is the case, should not the implications of our sanctification, including our advocacy for anything, look, sound, and feel Christ-like?

If Jesus disagreed with me on my social view and wanted me to adopt a different position, how would he respond? Would he engage in “end justifies means” tactics to pressure or force me to come around to his position? Would he separate himself and stand aloof from me or expel me from the community? Would he intimidate, ridicule, mock, or otherwise abuse me?

Of course he wouldn’t. The Jesus of orthodox Christian faith would rather die (and he did) than treat members of the household of faith with anything less than love. In so doing, he set the pattern and provided the power for us all to go and do likewise. My own aspiration for holy advocacy, then, should mirror God’s consistent, persistent love shown to me in Jesus Christ, notwithstanding the advantages and limitations of my own views or my particular denomination’s particular teachings, structure, and polity.

This brings us to some practical resources in our United Methodist heritage that we may employ as means of God’s grace in getting through the present chaos to a redemptive future. These resources are based in our orthodox, United Methodist doctrine, and in the polity and governance structure that are somewhat unique to the Wesleyan and Methodist heritage.

First and foremost, we have at our disposal all the means of God’s grace that have always been available to believers: prayer, Christian conversation, the Sacraments, fasting, searching the Scriptures, worship, and more. The practical resources for holy advocacy are abundant. These include the structures of United Methodist polity and governance that were designed to further the ministry and mission of the church. These structures were intended to allow change when appropriate in things nonessential to the faith while protecting and preserving the denomination’s core doctrines and definitive ecclesiastical practices.

What is distinctive about United Methodist polity and governance that must be considered in the interest of holy advocacy? Let us begin, once more, by describing what United Methodist polity and governance are not. They are not the same as Roman Catholic, Congregationalist, Baptist Fundamentalist, Anglican, or Lutheran.

Roman Catholics have a pope to pontificate, yes, imperialistically, over the denomination’s official position on social matters. Congregationalists (independent churches) take a vote to decide things on a congregational basis. Fundamentalists of various stripes (including many Baptists) rely on selective literal biblicist interpretations as determinative for their own respective judicatory. Some Anglicans, Lutherans, and others discern social questions in regional or continental contexts. United Methodists, by comparison, long ago agreed to define, defend, and/or change our official, denominational social positions and principles on the basis of General Conference vote. In the USA, with its cafeteria-style freedom of religion, any member objecting to a particular aspect of United Methodism or his or her own denomination is free either to use the provisions of the respective polity to try to change the denomination, or to leave it and take their preferences elsewhere.

Deciding things as important as social issues that affect people’s lives by General Conference vote has always meant that United Methodists (and those in our predecessor denominations) have had to live with differences of opinion, disappointment, and abundant, sanctifying grace to labor faithfully in ministry together despite personal, social, and political disagreements. Historically, we have had to do our best, God helping us, to continue to love, respect, and work alongside others in a denomination in which toleration of different opinions was fully expected, except when it came to the core doctrines of the church. United Methodist polity rests on an assumption not that there will be winners and losers in a vote, but that even when a vote does not go our way, God’s grace will equip us to exercise holy respect and tolerance for differences, even while we continue to work together for the larger mission of the denomination.

It is a distinctive strength of United Methodism and its predecessor denominations that doctrinally, theologically, and practically we are passionately invested with a social and theological conscience that has its roots in the love of God for all humanity. However, it has never been the case that The UMC or its predecessor denominations have all been in agreement, let alone correct, on all our social views throughout history. This is a humbling, historical fact that should be well taken by all United Methodists. American Methodism flatly precluded this possibility, if it ever was one, when within its first year of existence the Methodist Episcopal Church rejected Wesley’s prohibition against slavery and enacted a form of polity that would put this and other critically important social matters to vote among persons with a variety of opinions and interests.

If allowed to proceed unchecked, the sex wars in American Methodism will continue to undermine the wellbeing of members, communities, and the witness and mission of The UMC in the world. Vitriol, disorderly conduct, ecclesiastical defiance, and separatist and schismatic leanings present an image of the church and of the triune God that are foreign to authentic Wesleyan doctrine and practice. At a time like this, United Methodists would do well to recommit ourselves to the gifts of prayer and sanctifying grace for holiness of our hearts, lives, and work together. God is still God, faithful to lead us through this challenging season. The given means of God’s grace and advocacy for what is holy can turn around a broken, bleeding church any time with much better results than any alternative.

The Ministry of Order

An elder in The United Methodist Church is ordained to the “ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.” Ordering the church for its mission and service is the third categorical duty of an elder. It is also the area of the elder’s responsibility most likely to be unacknowledged or misunderstood by clergy and laypersons.

Most every Christian has some idea what is meant by ministries of “Word” (especially preaching), “Sacrament” (namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and “Service” (helping people), but what is meant by the ministry of Order? The bewilderment of church people around this question is illustrated by the common stereotype of the pastor who works only one hour a week on Sunday mornings — ministering of course with Word and Sacrament in a Service of worship. The remainder of the pastor’s week is often caricatured as a joke, an utter mystery, or sheer sloth.

So what is this ministry of Order, and why is it important enough to be registered alongside Service and the two historically, most often heavily weighed marks of the Christian church, Word and Sacrament?

Order in the United Methodist Book of Discipline is used both as a noun and as a verb. It is used as a noun to refer to categories of ordained clergy, such as deacons and elders, and also to refer to programs (orders) for worship. Order is used as a verb in association with an elder’s responsibilities in organizing, overseeing, systematizing, leading, managing, teaching, and administering the church’s ministry and mission. In many cases these are exactly the things a pastor does during the remainder of her or his forty-to-eighty work-week hours that many of the more perplexed parishioners fail to acknowledge or understand.

The United Methodist Church thinks Order is important enough not only to be listed as the third main ministry of an elder, but also to require persons called to ministry who are attending seminary to take courses in Order to become prepared to fulfill the responsibility. The course most directly related to the ministry of Order is the required course in United Methodist polity. Others include courses in administration, leadership, stewardship, evangelism, and so forth.

I readily admit that the polity course, where I first learned about church Order, was not my favorite in seminary. I also admit that, when I began the course, even though I had an undergraduate degree under my belt and lots of practical experience with religion, like many of my peers in the class, I knew nothing at all about United Methodist polity. So began a semester of intense exposure to the Book of Discipline, study of issues related to General Conference, and how appropriately and legally to administer a local congregation in my chosen denomination. I slogged through the course not only because it was required, but also because I cared about doing my job well. I viewed it (and still do) as a huge responsibility, God helping me. The last thing I wanted to do was to mess up in the profession to which I was called by the Holy One.

As much as I was highly motivated to take the course on United Methodist polity, I did not enjoy the fact that it was kind of like studying sentence structure. Rules, rules, rules! My least favorite part of the course was learning about the processes and consequences imposed on those who violated the rules of the denomination’s book of Order. Even more difficult were the occasions at Annual Conference when I witnessed and had to vote on the consequences imposed on colleagues who had been found guilty of violating the rules of our denomination’s polity as expressed in the Book of Discipline. It was then that I began to understand the meaning of things like covenant community, breach of faith, defrocking, and forgiveness. I learned that, if I chose to join the covenant community of United Methodist elders, I should plan to follow the rules of the Order; otherwise, I should expect consequences that may include naming my violation and expulsion from the Order. I began to grasp that the covenant of the elders is a serious matter demanding integrity of both motive and behavior. It is not to be taken lightly or corrupted to serve one’s own interests.

Through years of professional ministry I discovered that my favorite thing about the ministry of Order is that it makes possible amazing results in ministry and mission. In a well-ordered system, things get done. People know what their responsibilities are and where to go for help. Resources are aligned with mission, vision, and values. Organizational integrity may indeed exist and those who participate in a system based on shared values may enjoy enormously their work and their journey in God’s mission together.

To return to the earlier discussion of why the ministry of Order is important, one of the greatest challenges before The United Methodist Church today is confusion about the ministry of Order and its significance in fulfilling the mission of the church. Alongside the unfortunate caricature of a pastor who works only one day of the week is another picture. The image is one of a growing number of elders, ordained to the ministry of Order, who proudly demonstrate affinity with ecclesiastical disruption, chaos, and disorder despite the commonly held beliefs that church organization and chaos cannot successfully coexist in one body and that disorder and Order are polar opposites. These ordained elders (and occasionally a bishop) are prone to mix up personal and political plans with the polity and mission of The United Methodist Church. They make a mockery of the church’s Order through premeditated performances of ecclesiastical disobedience while encouraging others to stand in (ironically) ordered conformity to the disorderly behavior of their cohorts in misconduct.

The movement of disorder in The United Methodist Church has escalated to the point that serious discussions are taking place around the possibility that the denomination itself will fragment, split, or dissolve. This would finally represent the quintessential act of disorder, an unfortunate, unnecessary tragedy for the body of Christ.

There is a lot at stake in the ministry of Order. Yet because it is so widely unacknowledged or misunderstood, its importance is easy to overlook until serious problems emerge. There is no more important time than the present and no better opportunity than the one before us in The United Methodist Church to exercise and honor the ministry of Order as one of the primary duties of an elder and an enormous blessing to the church.

Better Than Christmas

What could possibly be better than “the most wonderful time of the year”?

This is an important pastoral and theological question as the twelve days of Christmas wind down and the bills begin to roll in, as we pack up the decorations and start longing for springtime. Immediately following the winter holidays, many folks begin to experience a growing sense of let-down. For those who live in cooler climates, the short, dark, gray days of winter can chill both body and spirit. Well-beloved pastors, who have labored long and hard leading congregations through Advent and Christmas Eve, take a vacation on the Sunday after Christmas to give their weary minds, bodies, and spirits a break. For many clergy there is a collective sense of relief that it is all over until next year.

Meanwhile, imaginative children, non-liturgical types, and Christmas lovers everywhere wonder why Christmas can’t last longer, at least through winter if not all year. Why not festive lights and glowing, glittering decorations throughout the coldest, darkest months? Why not celebrate the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent wreath ceremonies through all seasons? Why not study and fill the desires of loved ones and strangers through gifts, generous hospitality, and acts of kindness whenever the spirit moves? Why not “worship Christ the newborn King” beyond Christmas Eve into his and into our toddler, childhood, adolescent, teenage, twenty-something, and beyond phases?

A fervent desire for even more celebration resonates beautifully with our Wesleyan heritage. What could be better than Christmas? The historic, Christian faith will quickly hand us some clues.

Indeed, if we will refrain from putting them completely aside following December 25th, two famous Charles Wesley hymns, one of Advent and another from Christmas, will point us to that which is even greater than Christmas. The lyrics of these songs, so expressive of a vital Wesleyan Christian faith, help us to steer clear of post-holiday blues or despair and to move instead into a more full-blown celebration of God’s amazing intervention in our earthly lives.

In “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” Charles Wesley reminds us that Christmas marks the birth, but just the birth of the long-expected Savior of the world. This unique, most remarkable occasion signifies not only the earthly incarnation of God in Christ. This event launches into the world and into the faithful the new life that sets people free from fear and sin. With Christmas, God has opened a door so that we may step into a new reality in Jesus Christ and thereafter everything is different, including the short, dark days that remain of winter.

Now, sings Wesley, upon the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem we can find our rest in Christ, the earth can discover its hope; every nation can fulfill its deepest desires and every longing heart experience joy! Now, because of Christmas God’s people are delivered, God lives and reigns with and within us forever and God’s kingdom of grace is already dawning on the earth.

Further, in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” Wesley invites all nations to rise into the joy and triumph of the angels’ song of “glory to the new-born King.” Here born into in the humble flesh of humanity is the God-head; here it has pleased the Deity to dwell with us in Jesus! Jesus, who is bringing light and life to all, brings with him the gifts of healing, the new birth, and everlasting life.

If Brother Charles is right, there is no room for post-Christmas gloom and no good reason to stop celebrating after December 25th. In fact, our work, joy, and celebration of the dawning of God’s kingdom are cut out for us today and in the days and months ahead! If we truly believe, the question becomes, what are we going to do with what’s even better than Christmas? If we truly believe, at Christmas the joy and the fun have only begun.

What’s better than Christmas is the rich continuum of God not only bursting into the world enfleshed as an adorable, vulnerable newborn baby but still living among us through all the days, nights, and seasons of life, culminating in life beyond life as we know it, well beyond these earthly years.

What’s better than Christmas is the outrageous fact that the newborn King, the Son of God, is born within the likes of us not only at Christmas, but each and every day we remain open to God’s Spirit of hope, peace, love, and joy. Within us, God’s grace is already at work growing us into the people we are meant by God to be. If the miracle of Jesus born in Bethlehem is great, how great is the miracle of Jesus born in the hearts and lives of people like you and me?

What’s better even than Christmas is that we get this miracle, this growing presence of the Christ-child, Christ-human to give and to share as a gift with others. Best of all, we get to participate in God’s great good news, peace and good will toward all. What’s better than Christmas is that Christmas, wonderful as it is, marks only the beginning of God’s amazing, saving work in the world.

What’s Right with Orthodoxy?

Orthodoxy has fallen from favor among some otherwise fervent adherents of Christianity. Its critics associate orthodoxy with old-fashioned, unreasonable Christian beliefs from a bygone era. Moreover, its detractors often link orthodoxy with contemporary right wing politics and social policies, which in turn is used as the justification, by those who disagree with these political and social opinions, to dismiss orthodoxy as irrelevant if not harmful to the church. The reasoning goes like this: If one adheres to Christian orthodoxy, one’s politics and social views must be old-fashioned and regressive, somewhere on a fast track back to the Dark Ages.

Granted, orthodoxy is old, as old as the Christian faith itself. It was alive and well during the Dark Ages but also in every era of the church. Christian orthodoxy thrives today in many places in the world. As in ages past, in historic creeds and confessions, Christian orthodoxy even now is capturing and conveying the very heart of the gospel message.

What is orthodoxy? Merriam Webster defines it simply as “a belief or way of thinking that is accepted as true or correct.” In Christian usage this definition applies to central beliefs of the earliest Christian church, those which, in a great sea of competing options, were finally synthesized into creeds and confessions that were formally adopted by the church. It was because of these convictions about the gospel that Christians of each era have gone to the trouble to pass their Christian faith on to others, including their own children, and eventually including us who now also embrace the core doctrines the early Christians believed to be true and correct.

Although some will assume or argue that Christian orthodoxy is made up of an oppressively long list of doctrines used to subjugate and control people, history will confirm that Christian orthodoxy is most often expressed in a stunningly short list of beliefs that affirm the Holy Trinity and salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy as historically understood does not wed believers to a long inventory of theological, political, and social doctrines. Rather, orthodoxy as we are using the term here and as expressed in Christian history is made up of a relatively short list of core doctrines that have to do with the heart of the gospel. For example, orthodoxy is not even definitive on the nature of atonement. Rather, it generates conversation among believers in the gospel about the nature of Christ’s death and how we then should live.

Contrary to the assertions of its adversaries that it is regressive and backwards-looking, a brief survey of Christian history indicates that orthodoxy has inspired some of the most forward-looking, prophetic movements in the life of the church. Great teachers and leaders come immediately to mind: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Frederick Douglass, Irenaeus, Richard Allen, Billy Graham, Jarena Lee, and Anna Howard Shaw, as well as Susanna, Charles, and John Wesley. These giants of the faith upheld orthodox Christianity and changed not only the church but the world in commendable ways. They also left their critics in the dust spiritually, theologically, and historically speaking. Speaking of dust, one needs only to dust off and reread one’s church history to be reminded of the triumphs of truth over corruption, the well-fought fights for good over evil and social progress over oppressive, status quo politics by Christians who held tenaciously to orthodoxy.

It is also the case that some doctrinally “orthodox” Christian leaders have used their positions and power to oppress others. For example, for many decades leading Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and others rode vociferously along on the band wagons that justified the horrific evil of American slavery, oppressed women and persons of color, and discriminated unapologetically against persons who were divorced in both church and society. But these political and social opinions and actions had nothing to do with these leaders’ “orthodoxy.” In fact, we can say they held such views in spite of, rather than because of, their orthodoxy. Tragically, they failed to allow the God in Christ of the gospel to permeate and transform their status quo politics and social views.

There has always been religion that serves the human status quo and religion that serves God’s purposes on earth. There has always been good theology and bad theology, just as there is good practice of medicine and bad practice of medicine. Faulty interpretation and bad practice do not mean the textbook or the principles taught therein are outdated or harmful. Oppressive politics and bad theology by self-avowed Christians do not mean that the orthodox Christian faith is wrong.

There remains a common ground among Christians of many different denominations, theologies, politics, and social views. That common ground is orthodoxy — the basic and continuing beliefs that Christians have held since the church began. There are such things as orthodox Christians who are Republicans and orthodox Christians who are Democrats. I have even met some Socialist Christians, especially in places in the world where Socialism is the dominant form of politics. There are orthodox Christians who believe in traditional family structures and roles, such as the Mennonites and Amish, as well as those who think that all persons should be treated equally in the home, church, and society. Unless we want to run the risk of disrespecting, fighting, and possibly killing one another the way Christians did for centuries in Europe and elsewhere over differences in theology, we should give orthodoxy its due respect if for no other reason than the fact that, when taken seriously, it can help Christians of varying stripes to live together peaceably.

One of the great legacies of Christian orthodoxy is ecumenism. Peaceful and constructive ecumenism would not be possible without common adherence by persons of many different communions to the orthodox Christian faith as expressed in creeds and councils of the church. Catholics, Baptists, Calvinists, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Pentecostals, as well as Free, Wesleyan, African, and United Methodists hold in common the historic Christian faith also known as orthodoxy. Yet we would be hard pressed to conclude that ecumenism is somehow regressive.

Beyond these spiritual and practical grounds there is yet another, even more important reason we should give Christian orthodoxy our respect. Why have fiercely apologetic Christians cared so much about orthodoxy that they defied kings, emperors, torture, and death in defense of the “faith once delivered to the saints”? Why did it matter so much? Why was it dearer than prestige, wealth, and even life itself? For those who have believed Christian orthodoxy to be true, it is truth itself, the foundation for all else.

Orthodox belief for its adherents is an essential matter not only for this life, but for eternal life. In the midst of a world quickly fading away, it is the essence of what was, is, and will remain forever. The gospel truth expressed in orthodox Christianity is worth living for, worth giving away to one’s friends and enemies, and worth dying for. This is not just because it is orthodox, but fundamentally because it is true.

Orthodoxy represents the message, identity, and mission of the Christian church through all ages. It is the heart of the gospel. It does not change with the seasons and cultures of humanity because it represents the core revelation of God in Jesus Christ in human history.

What’s right with Christian orthodoxy? Not any given theology, politic, or social view. What’s right with Christian orthodoxy is that it makes it possible for Christians to live in peace with one another and thereby to have a credible witness to the Prince of Peace. Most important, what is right about Christian orthodoxy is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that it proclaims to us and to the whole world.

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